Hugo Chavez, Comandante

Radio 4’s book of the week, Comandante, is magnificent.

Rory Carroll’s narrative gives a subtle favour of Chavez, Venezuela and the reality of life there.

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The Miami Herald reviewed his book, which the radio programme is based on:

“In his latest book, Irish journalist Rory Carroll delivers an authoritative account of the complicated legacy of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who died this month. In Comandante, Carroll — who served as The Guardian correspondent in Caracas from 2006 until 2012 — describes in minute detail how Chávez, who ruled Venezuela from 1999 until his death on March 5, created something unique, “an authoritarian democracy . . . . a hybrid system of personality cult and one-man rule.” Here is Chávez not as a one-dimensional symbol but in all his complexity: The utopian socialist, the voracious reader, the vainglorious militarist, the bad husband, the doting father.

Even as he describes how Chávez empowered poor communities in Venezuela by creating communal councils and building homes for thousands of people who had never known decent shelter, Carroll succinctly outlines how the president squandered the great opportunity for durable development afforded to him by record-high oil prices, failing to diversify the country’s economy.

At the heart of this failure proves to be a desire — above all else — for power.

Chávez had a digital record of the names of three million people who had voted against him in a 2004 recall referendum, which was then used “to purge signatories from the state payroll, to deny jobs, contracts, loans, documents, to harass and punish, to make sectarianism official.” The mastermind behind the list, Luis Tascón, went on to become a strident critic of government corruption and was banished from Chávez’s inner circle before his own death in 2010.

Chávez’s opposition — a diffuse and disorganized group of former military allies, civil libertarians, the country’s besieged middle class and what Chávez would doubtless refer to as the country’s rancid oligarchy — never managed to unseat him. This is perhaps not surprising. They were faced with the cheerleading omnipotence of the ubiquitous state media — the result of Chávez’s war against Venezuela’s virulently hostile private media — and massive slush funds paid for with money siphoned from the state oil company.

Chávez did not ascend to and retain power alone, though, and contained in Carroll’s book are revealing snapshots of those who accompanied the president: The Machiavellian academic-turned-government-official Jorge Giordani; the gruff bus driver who would become foreign minister (and now president) Nicolás Maduro; the slippery former army officer Diosdado Cabello.”

Orwell, Atos and The Tories

Like many, I have read most of Orwell’s work, discussed and debated what he was trying to get at and even questioned some of his later decisions. Not unsurprisingly there is a lot to get to grips with. He was a multifaceted character living in turbulent times and profoundly affected by it.

David Aaronovitch does an excellent job in presenting the views of various scholars, friends and associates of Orwell. Nicely balanced. Over at the BBC Iplayer, The Road to Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Readers will remember how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) outsourced to Atos, eligibility assessments of the disabled. Atos, in return, have been roundly criticised for declaring people to be “fit for work” only to have them die a few weeks later. Charities and other organisations connected with disabilities have pointed out the flaws in Atos’s methodology.

But now, in a bizarre twist, Atos are outsourcing many of those assessments to the NHS.

So the Public sector outsources to the private sector, a nasty task, who in turn outsource it back to parts of, the once, Public sector.

Atos is using this to deflect criticism on how many of those declared fit either die or end up destitute, whilst Atos rakes in millions.

From Lebanon, Hezbollah has been attacking Syrians with rockets.

Mapping child poverty, not something the Tories or their LibDem allies will welcome.

In other news, a UN official wonders about food banks in Britain. I am just waiting for some idiot Tory to trumpet them, saying “…at least we are world leaders in food banks!”

The privatisation of education continues a pace as Gove brings in help to sack people.

Polly Toynbee on the bedroom tax and housing.

Not above shelf stacking.

Finally, NHS privatisation: Compilation of financial and vested interests, well worth a read. I can’t even imagine how scathing George Orwell would have been, of a society which attacks the poorest and weakest whilst selling off the family silver, and for once a Tory was right about something.